Thursday, July 26, 2012

Eastern Meadowlark

On my way to work (or, I guess from is the more exciting way to put it given then I'm heading back to my family from work) there is a stretch of road where Eastern Meadowlarks have chosen to nest and raise their young.  Throughout the last weeks there has hardly been a day when I don't see at least one of the birds on a hydro wire, atop the tip of  a spruce, or perched on a fence post.  The bright yellow breast and black bib prominently displayed, is usually joined with a very hearty singing of a whistling melody - only unheard because of my speeding by in the car, mostly in the morning, on the way to work.  

One day a couple weeks ago, I had my camera with me and sighted one of the birds on the hydro line and stopped, approached behind a spruce tree and was able to get quite close before it got too uneasy and flew away.

Eastern Meadowlark

I followed it down the road, and stopped as it perched itself on a farmer's fence.  Across the long grass I noticed another similar shape facing away, tottering a bit in a balancing act on another fence wire.  With my approach from the roadside, it awkwardly fluttered into the grass.  I'm pretty sure it was a recently fledged young one given it's apparently smaller size and awkwardness.

fledgling Eastern Meadowlark

The adult promptly followed and vanished into the long grass.  Though I waited for a bit, I didn't see either of them again.  You can see the characteristic white markings on the outer portion of the tail in the photo below.  They are about the same size as a robin, but plumper and sit on the wire in what looks like an awkward and unbalanced position, almost looking like it will fall forward as its legs seem attached at the rear of its body.

Adult Eastern Meadowlark following
young one into the grass

A morning or so later, left early and saw the lark (actually they are not Larks, but from the blackbird family).

Eastern Meadowlark takeoff
This time with no spruce to hide behind, my approach was quickly avoided and it again flew down to the tall grassy spot from the day before.  The grass is long in a horse paddock which is empty, perfect nesting ground for these ground nesting birds which will build nests in the tall grasses, sometimes even weaving roofs and entrances.  It moved around, often sending out a sounding call, but blending into the grass well, hard to see.

Eastern Meadowlark in long grass

It soon headed to a clump of grass, thicker and greener than the rest, and stayed there for the remainder of my stop.  It sang from the top of this clump and often looked down into the clump, and stayed their, seemingly with a purpose.  Even if I had been tempted to go and check it out, stressing the bird by an apparent nest wasn't a good idea, and the paddock being close to a house and electric fencing on its top dissuaded me as well.

Eastern Meadowlark singing on nest site?

While there, a Goldfinch brightened the same spruce tree the Eastern Meadowlark had left.  They are just nesting now as they feed only on wild flower seeds.  Since this is almost their sole diet, they nest this late timed with the ripening of the seeds to ensure a plentiful supply of food.  A common scene including goldfinches is a perch on a Canadian Thistle.  I'd love to get a shot like that some day, but they are very jumpy and hard to approach.  This picture is a crop for that reason.

American Goldfinch

A parting shot of an unknown bug on a Queen Anne's Lace.

Bug on Queen Anne's Lace

And for those wondering about where the pictures from the Lodge are, these pictures were in the queue first.... they're coming. :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Crows and Frogs

The other day Justin and I were wandering on the next door church property and we spotted a Crow hopping on the ground not far from us. As we approached it didn't take off as it usually would, but hopped along for quite a ways and then finally flapped it's way up into a neighbour's lilac bush. Even there, it let us approach quite close. I ran back to the house and grabbed the camera expecting it to be gone by the time I returned. It had remained in the same spot and in the end, we wonder if it was possibly infected with West Nile virus. It had very little fear of us and was for the most part, unable to fly with no real evidence of injury.

American Crow

West Nile Disease is not transmittable by direct contact with a bird as it has to be transmitted through the blood which happens through mosquitoes. So there was no risk at getting this close. Being the Canada Day Long Weekend, a call to the local Health Unit only got a poison contact person, and a message left with Canada Wildlife Hotline was never returned. We saw the bird later in the day getting a lot of attention (seeming unfriendly, but hard to tell) by a few other crows, but never saw it again after that.

American Crow - with West Nile Virus?

The Crow is really an amazing bird, though many consider the seemingly drab, plain, black coloured bird a nuisance. They are very smart with more intelligence than parrots, and some consider them to be more intelligent than Apes. I posted a link of a video of a crow snowboarding, which is quite comical and creative. They are notorious collectors, and will employ very ingenious methods to obtain and get at food.

I've tried to get pictures of them in the past without being able to get close enough for a worthwhile photo. Ironic, as it's very typical of them to remain just barely off in the shoulder, having figured out your speeding car will predictably stay on the paved road. This is in comparison to other birds which, you may or may not have noticed, will usually flee to the nearby fence or hydro wire as you approach.

Did you know that a flock of crows is called a "murder"? Crows are omniverous, eating meat (including roadkill) as well as fruit and nuts and seeds.

A noble head.

The other day we found this Gray Treefrog in our backyard. They are amazing little creatures for a number of reasons. Their ability to cling to the surfaces of leaves and branches is quite amazing. They accomplish this with a combination of tools. The pads of their toes actually have many tiny, adjustable, hexagonal, column-like protrusions which can slip into miniature cracks and variations in the surface it is clinging too. They also secrete mucus from their toes which adds surface tension helping to keep them attached.

Gray Tree Frog

Many tree frogs are also able to change their colours to camouflage themselves for protection. The Grey Tree Frog can change its colour from its namesake gray to green. They also have a feature which is common in the insect and amphibian world - the use of warning colour. Many insects use bright colours to show to predators that they are poisonous or taste awful. And other mimic this though they may actually be tasty. The Gray Tree Frog has bright yellow patches in hidden portions its thighs. These spots are well hidden when tightly holding onto a leaf or branch, but when stretched out, they easily catch your attention.

Gray Tree Frog warning pose.

A couple times while taking pictures (I admit to putting him back on a nearby tree for another couple pictures), it hopped down onto our deck and struck this pose. The pose seemed very purposeful as it even adjusted its position and then stuck its rear end in the air, prominently displaying the splashes of bright yellow warning colour. 

Now here is a question - how would that frog know those spots were even there? Unless it had approached a set of mirrors, it can't even see its back end. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you shouldn't be surprised to know that I believe the world and all we see was created, not evolved. To me, this is another interesting pointer that creatures were created with very purposeful designs, many features of which the creature itself doesn't even "know" but uses with built in instincts. Feel free to comment or email me if you think otherwise. :)

We're off the lodge with Holly's family for some vacation and who knows what I'll see up there. Hope to come back with some pictures to share!

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Caught a Fox

Following up on a previous post labelled "To Catch a Fox", I did finally manage to "catch" a fox, two in fact, at the location where we had seen fox evidence in the form of a den and lots of tracks.  I had the boys with me on the way back from a church baseball game and our route took us right past the location.  We quietly (as quietly as you can approach with three eager boys aged 8, 6 and 4 eager to be the first to see!) approached and rounding a bend, were rewarded right way with seeing two Red Foxes crossing the tracks, likely returning home to the den for the day.  It was around 8:30pm and with nightfall coming, the adults were returning to the den where the kits were likely inside.  By this time they would likely be between two or three months old.

Red Fox Den door step.
Fresh hole excavation evidence on bottom left.

After my first visit back in November, I had stopped by in May to see if there was any activity to indicate they were there.  I had found the above evidence of a new den on the opposite side of the tracks, and the very cleanly picked over remains of what I'm pretty sure is a Wild Turkey given its size.  I wonder if foxes are large enough to take down a Wild Turkey.  If not, they might have found the remains to clean up.  Foxes tend to eat smaller animals like mice and squirrels, though are actually omnivorous meaning they will also eat berries and nuts.  The bones, trampled grass and surrounding sand all covered with tracks gave ample evidence that they were definitely there.

Picked clean Wild Turkey remains on the den doorstep.

And our most recent visit gave us this short sighting with only enough time to shoot three pictures before they were gone, this one being the best of the lot before they were quietly and swiftly gone.

Red Fox pair.

Up in the structure of the railway overpass bridge were nesting Rock Pigeons.  This nest seems to have been adopted from what I believe started out as a swallow nest so I wonder if these two were just hanging out there.  Usually pigeons build a stick nest.

Rock Pigeons

Some time I'd love to hang out at this location and see if I can see the young ones.  Some day.